City officials have certified a municipal initiative depenalizing marijuana possession for the May 6th ballot.
Advocates with the group Ground Game Texas collected over 37,000 signatures from municipal voters to qualify the measure for the local ballot.
The measure seeks to prohibit local law enforcement from making low-level marijuana-related arrests. It also stipulates that police cannot “consider the odor of marijuana or hemp to constitute probable cause for any search or seizure.”
In recent months, voters in several Texas cities – including Austin, Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen, and San Marcos – have approved similar ballot measures. However, local councilmembers in Harker Heights quickly voted to repeal the law. Local voters will have the opportunity to decide either to uphold or reject the council’s decision later this year. Local politicians in Killeen also took steps to amend its law; specifically, lawmakers temporarily struck down language prohibiting police from initiating a search based solely upon the smell of cannabis.
San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia has indicated that his office will likely refuse to enact the ordinance if voters pass it – opining that city authorities do not possess the legal authority to limit the enforcement of state drug laws.
Texas leads the nation in marijuana-related arrests. Under state law, the possession of two ounces or less of cannabis is defined as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Those arrested are disproportionately African Americans.
“Texans have shown that they want major cannabis law reforms via polling, legislative engagement, and now at the local ballot box,” said NORML’s State Policy Manager Jax James, who also serves as the Executive Director of Texas NORML. “While these local advancements are important in mitigating harm on citizens and reprioritizing law enforcement time, they result in a patchwork of differing marijuana enforcement policies based on location. It is time for lawmakers to take steps to enact statewide reforms that address Texas’ failed policy of cannabis prohibition.”